NEWPORT, Maine — The absentee rate at Nokomis Regional High School reached almost 34 percent Wednesday as several seasonal maladies combined with the H1N1 flu to keep lots of students out of school.
Principal Mary Nadeau, in a memo posted on the school’s Web site and Facebook page, said there are signs that the outbreak may have reached its peak.
“The reports of any new cases [of H1N1] have drastically dropped from Monday and Tuesday,” wrote Nadeau. “Hopefully, that is a sign that this outbreak has spiked and attendance will return to normal in a couple of days.”
Nadeau stressed that it was unknown how many of the absences are attributable to H1N1 and that some students have reported having seasonal flu, strep throat, colds and mono. There might also be some families keeping students home as a precaution.
“We understand parents and students are concerned and may have kept their children at home, sick or not,” wrote Nadeau. “That is OK; just let us know.”
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention told the Bangor Daily News this week that more than 20 Maine schools reported student absentee rates of 15 percent or more on Monday and Tuesday, compared with just eight schools that reported similar rates last week.
Nadeau wrote that there are no plans to cancel school unless too many teachers or bus drivers are affected, which so far hasn’t happened.
Officials at Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield said the outbreak is being felt there, too. Vicki Loughery, the hospital’s director of nursing, said Thursday that there has been a sharp increase in patients coming to the emergency room this week.
“It’s probably between 20 and 30 patients above our normal daily census,” she said. “That’s not to say that they’re all H1N1 or seasonal flu.”
The hospital also has seen a heavy stream of patients with strep throat and colds.
“There are a lot of different respiratory diseases that people are going through right now,” said Loughery.
Terri Vieira, Sebasticook’s vice president of operations, said several doctor’s offices associated with the hospital also have experienced an increase in patient load.
Vieira said the hospital has a plan in the event that the outbreak reaches a certain level but so far that level hasn’t been reached. She urged people experiencing flu symptoms to try to isolate themselves to avoid spreading the disease, but to seek medical help if they think they need it.
“People know their bodies pretty well,” she said. “If you really think you need to see a doctor, you should do it.”
One thing patients can expect at the hospital or in their doctor’s office is to be asked to wear a blue mask.
“Please wear one,” said Loughery. “It can be difficult when you’re having trouble breathing, but it’s to protect yourself and others.”